Friday, July 09, 2004

P.R. - my final word

I'm firmly entrenched in my opposition to PR, but Andrew Coyne's discussion has been excellent and intelligent. To wrap up, I think I'd like to set out my final objections, for evisceration by smarter folk than me.

For the sake of argument, and because it seems to be most favoured by supporters, let's say that the PR model being considered is 50/50 MMPR. 308 MPs would be elected, as now, via first-past-the-post in 308 ridings. An additional 308 MPs would be elected via affiliation with their party's percentage of the national popular vote (note - debate over the proper size of the House of Commons is for another day).

My overall objections to PR in all its forms are outlined in previous posts, as well as here and here. Let us consider the possible sub-models of 50/50 MMPR, i.e. how exactly the other 308 MPs should be chosen.

1) Ghost MPs
Skip the actual people; if Liberals win 115 PR MPs, the Liberal leader simply has 115 additional votes on every issue as well as his own. This is my favorite sub-model, because it's the most honest. If the Liberals gain the 115 MPs because of Liberal Party support, it should be the Liberal Party who makes the decisions. The sole objection here is that the optics are awful (and as such, is a pretty good argument against PR as a whole).

1A) Robo-MPs
U.S. Electoral College! Same as 1), but have human beings raising their hands to vote, representing their party's views exactly. The identity of the Robo-MPs is unimportant, as they exist solely to vote the party line. Objection here is that it's dishonest; using figureheads to obscure the undemocratic stench of 1).

2) MPs appointed by the party off their own list. We already have a place where party hacks can while away their days with little fear of losing their jobs - the Senate. We also now approach the point where individual MPs may vote against the party line, undermining PR's stated purpose of party representation.

3) MPs appointed by the party based on internal elections. As I have noted, this poses a real conundrum when it comes to the stated purpose of PR. Voters are electing the party; yet there is a real likelihood that the people who "win" the internal party elections did so by differentiating themselves from party boilerplate. Single issue sub-groups within a party could no doubt elevate favoured candidates into very high positions on the party list. Rural western NDPers could absolutely get pro-lifers to near the top of their party list; is this what Toronto's NDP voters are supporting when they vote NDP?

4) MPs voted in directly off a list by their party's voters. All the problems of 3), with the added bonus of more difficult balloting. Intra-party campaigning would be going on at the same time as the general election, which would be chaos. Voters would need to weigh the merits of the party, as well as the merits of the individuals running, which should be noted is the exact same situation as we have now.

5) MPs to be "riding losers" with the biggest % of popular support. I hate this option, which would allow candidates rejected by voters in their own hometowns to slip in Parliament's backdoor. These people are probably least likely to toe the party line, because they're going to have to run again next time, and need to appeal to their home riding. Defeats the purpose, or at least diminishes the effectiveness, of PR.

There you have it. If I'm not right, at least I hope I'm clear.


At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ok, I’ll bite.

All of the talk of PR has come about because of the universally recognized peculiarity of the FPTP electoral system that can (and has) produce National governments that are not representative of the views of the Nation as a whole. We can debate whether ‘more representative’ equals ‘more democratic’ if you like (as per your 01:30 post), but I hope that we can both agree that one of the products of the FPTP has been an artificial over-emphasis of regional differences. Regionalization has, in my opinion, extremely serious and ultimately detrimental consequences for Canada as has recently been highlighted by all of the Western Alienation, Alberta Separation rhetoric, never mind the ongoing battles with Quebec. Please note, that I am not arguing that the country is or should be homogenous, only that our electoral system should not be a major cause of regional tensions. Both Martin and Harper were guilty in the campaign of using this regionalization to their ‘advantage’, and the country as a whole’s disadvantage (PM – “Blame the West”, SH – “The West wants in”).

Given that I believe this artificial regionalization to be so destructive it is my opinion that we need some electoral reform to prevent it.

PR seems to be a decent way to solve some of the problems identified above; however, as you and numerous others have very correctly noted, it brings with it a suite of other problems. The question is, then, is it worth it?

Some Potential Problems with PR (there are more, increased cost, etc.).

First, it is necessary to define what I mean by PR, since there are so many competing versions. I am talking about something close to the MMPR of New Zealand where voters elect an MP in their riding using a FPTP and then throw a vote to a party to determine the proportion of MPs each party should get. I will assume for now that each party has a list of potential ‘at-large’ MPs already prepared, and I will assume that the ‘at-large’ list is determined by Party members (through internal elections in the same way as they now have Leadership conventions).

One of your arguments is that the existence of ‘at-large’ MP’s would 1) weaken the overall power of ‘normal’ MPs. Another argument is that because these ‘at-large’ MP’s would not be accountable to a particular set of voters: 2) it would be impossible to kick them out; and 3) these MPs would just be robotic party votes.

1) Weaken overall power of ‘normal’ MPs

This is absolutely true, but I believe it has been overstated. First, each riding would still have their own MP who can vote according to his/her constituent’s wishes. Second, the proportion of ‘at-large’ MPs would be very small compared to the ‘original’ MPs, and could even be capped at a certain proportion as has been done in a number of PR systems.

2) Impossible to kick them out

I think this is also overstated. Since lists are prepared before hand, if you don’t like the people on the list, don’t vote for that party. Also, keep in mind that because the lists are elected in internal Party elections, then these members should be more reflective of party values than is currently the case. Now, if the Party in question keeps putting ‘noxious’ candidates on their list it means that the Party has noxious values and don’t deserve your vote anyway. If the noxious candidates keep getting elected it must mean that a majority of people like them. What could be more democratic than that? Speaking of undemocratic, it should also be remembered that Cabinet Ministers under the current system do not even need to be elected – but that is another discussion.

3) MPs as robotic party votes

Probably true, but I would say it is definitely NOT true that they would not be accountable to any set of voters. In fact, these ‘at-large’ MPs would be accountable to a much larger set of voters than the ‘original’ voters. If they strayed too far from their Party’s values then they would be booted in the next election. Finally, robotic party voting is not an inherent part of PR anymore than it is of FPTP. As we are seeing in the current system, it is ridiculously rigid. PR is not structurally worse in this regard.

On a slight tangent, I also think that the idea of ‘free-votes’ is also a little overstated and SH’s emphasis on it has the potential to bite him in the ass. On the one hand SH correctly states that the CPC can and should not be defined on the basis of moral issues such as abortion, SSM, etc., and that these should be matters of free votes. On the other hand, however, in order for this to work, all of his MP’s will either have to let their views be known before they get elected, or they will have to have referenda in their constituency in order to get a mandate to vote. How many times have I had an MP come to my door to actually ask my opinion on some issue – zero. In the current system where parties generally ‘enforce’ viewpoints on such issues I know that my vote for Mr. Aldini will lead to a certain vote (whether Mr. Aldini believes in it or not) since I know the party policy on that issue. A reassuring notion in many ways. If the CPC has no party policy on any of these issues, AND, if they prevent their MP’s from expressing their views during elections, then how do I know which way Mr. Billings will vote if I help elect him, and how will Mr. Billings know if he has a mandate to vote a certain way if he never told us what he believes. Trouble.

In any case, on balance, I believe that correcting the highly destructive artificial regionalization is worth a slight decrease in power of ‘original’ MPs. I also think that this decrease in power would be overcome if more free votes were allowed (and MP’s told us their positions). But I fully understand the opposing viewpoint.

Yeeeesh. That is enough for me.

Mr. Aldini,

My final word as well (I posted this on your blog too, but I wasn’t sure if you read the comments or not).

As you know, I favour your Option 3, but I believe that you slightly misrepresent PR.

Namely, you make the incorrect assumption that PR’s commitment to parties means that “party MPs” would have to robotically vote the way “the Party” votes. This is to fundamentally misunderstand what a Party is. A monolithic Party, with an absolutely agreed upon platform doesn’t exist. How could it with so much diversity in opinion? No, a Party represents a coalition of like-minded individuals. Not identical individuals, like-minded individuals. Representing “the party”, then, does not mean that their votes would be robotic or automatic any more than the votes of riding MPs are robotic or automatic – party whips would have to work on each group in the same way. Party MPs represent their Party in exactly the same way that riding MPs represent ridings. There is no difference whatsoever!

The riding MP makes his values known to the constituents of his riding and says – if you agree with these values vote for me and I will make sure that I represent you by supporting these values in Ottawa.

The party MP makes his values known to constituents of his party and says – if you agree with these values vote for me and I will make sure that I represent you by supporting these values in Ottawa.

If a pro-life NDP is elected to the NDP Party Lists then this is recognition that members of the NDP across Canada are not homogenous, and that together they have democratically elected people with diverse views. Fantastic! It also means that the views must not be seen as so diverse that the party as a whole doesn’t feel they can’t be accommodated. Otherwise the party would split-up, which might be the way to go. Again, Fantastic! The bottom line is that this MP was elected by a plurality of NDP party members and so must represent the values of a whole wack of NDP party members. PR isn’t opposed to this in any way.

It is also disingenuous to suggest that Party MPs are not accountable to voters. Since these MPs are elected in exactly the same way as riding MPs, only by different constituencies, they are just as accountable to those same voters. If you don’t like your riding MP, don’t vote for the bum. If you don’t like a particular candidate on a party MP nomination form, don’t vote for the bum. If a riding MP gets in despite your vote, it means that the majority of people in your riding disagreed with you. Likewise if a Party MP gets in despite your vote, it means that the majority of party members disagree with you. Democracy’s a bitch.


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